Moving Mountains and Valleys with Velvet Revolver

Scott Weiland planting Tree.

Scott Weiland and I planting a Tree.

When I think about my work with the rock group Velvet Revolver and in particular my relationship with Scott Weiland, there is one memory that always makes me smile. I got a call from Dana Dufine, Scott’s business manager from Immortal Records. She told me about this new supergroup formed by Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum from Guns n’ Roses, Dave Kushner and Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. The band had struck a deal with Clive Davis and were under contract for the  first Velvet Revolver album, for which the musicians had been paid in advance. This was all really good news except that, at the time, the discord between the band members had brought their work to a grinding halt. The clock was ticking to produce the album because they already had secured a time slot in a prominent LA recording studio. No one would show up to the recording session, and Dana was urgently asking for my help in resolving this impasse. “Joseph, please fly to LA and get these guys working together again,” she asked.  Sure enough, I was on a plane the next day. Duff picked me up at the airport and off we went to Studio City to meet the band. Everyone showed up separately, meeting in a private room. No one would speak. Which is fine with me–my work in corporate taught me how to be very comfortable with silence. In this scene, it was deafening. After about 10 minutes of watching everyone writhe in their chairs, I began to gently sing an off-key Joni Mitchell song called “People’s Parties”.

All the people at this party, they’ve got a lot of style
They’ve got stamps of many countries, they’ve got passport smiles
Some are friendly, some are cutting, some are watching it from the wings
Some are standing in the center, giving to get something

Photo Beauty gets attention, then her eye paint’s running down
She’s got a rose in her teeth and a lampshade crown
One minute she’s so happy, then she’s crying on someone’s knee
Saying, laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release

I told you when I met you I was crazy, cry for us all Beauty
Cry for Eddie in the corner, thinking he’s nobody
And Jack behind his joker and stone-cold Grace behind her fan
And me in my frightened silence, thinking I don’t understand

I feel like I am sleeping, can you wake me?
You seem to have a broader sensibility
I’m just living on nerves and feelings with a weak and a lazy mind
And coming to peoples parties fumbling deaf, dumb and blind

I wish I had more sense of humor, keeping the sadness at bay
Throwing the lightness on these things
Laughing it all away, laughing it all away
Laughing it all away, laughing it all away

This was met with silence for a minute or two. Scott Weiland finally said “Sifu, you have the worst voice of anybody I know, but that was the most beautiful song I have ever heard.” He had tears streaming down his face. Everyone got up and met together in the room for a collective hug, after which we all went to the recording studio to make an album that sold 4 million records.

In 2001 or so, I was in my KI Fighting Concepts gym in Wenatchee, WA when the phone rang.  It was a gentleman who told me he was from LA up doing business in our area and wanted to hit the bags for a workout. We invited him to come on in and have at it. About an hour later, he showed up with a very ‘LA look’, lots of blond hair, tan, fit, tattooed, cool guy carrying a bag from Big 5 sporting goods. He took a look around and promptly dropped his bag in the garbage can. “I didn’t realize you had a real gym here,” he said. Then he began shadow boxing, doing footwork, jumping rope, kickboxing, hitting bags and the like. I told my business partner, Addy Hernandez, I would go hold some pads for him. He accepted my offer and we trained for awhile, when I noticed he was dropping his right arm when he jabbed. I slapped him a little to keep him mindful of this mistake. He said “Benny never told me I drop my right,” referring to training legend Benny the Jet Urquidez. I found this intriguing but we didn’t go into detail then. After that, he came in from time to time for about 2 weeks and at the end he introduced us to his wife, model Susan Holmes. They were kind and gracious people. When Duff asked what he owed me for the lessons, I told him not to worry about it. He bought me a couple of gift cards for a local book store though and took his leave. Although I knew his name was Duff, I had no idea who he really was until about 3 months later when I went to get a tattoo and the shop owner exclaimed “Dude, you’re the guy who trains Duff from Guns n’ Roses!” Perplexed, I told him he was mistaken but he clarified that the “Duff” I knew was none other than the famous rock musician. Duff later told me that one of the reasons why he trusted and believed in me was because I treated him with respect and dignity and gave him my all even though I didn’t know about his fame and fortune.

One day Duff gave me a call and said “Sifu, I’ve got a project for you. Have you ever heard of Stone Temple Pilots, particularly their lead singer Scott Weiland? Well we have narrowed down our choice for lead singer of our super-group and we want him. The problem is, he has a lot of issues to be worked through, and I had you in the back of my mind as someone who can train him and help him pull his shit together.”
“Well, that’s interesting, where would this take place?” I ask.
Duff explained, “We were thinking at your house in Chelan.”
“You want him to live with me?”
“Yeah but I got to tell you first, he’s a cocaine addict, a heroin addict, an alcoholic, he’s bipolar, he’s anorexic and he is brilliantly gifted” explained Duff.

A couple of days later, I met Duff and a few of his crew at Safeway in Chelan, WA. Scott showed up looking every bit as advertised, with a huge gash on his forehead (something with a prostitute and getting caught smoking drugs in an alley in LA). So we moved him into one of my kid’s downstairs bedrooms, shuttling off my teenagers to a hotel, much to their delight.  For the next 3 months, Scott lived with Addy and I as we proceeded to eliminate heroin and alcohol from his life cold turkey, and endeavor that required Addy to administer regular shots of synthetic opium to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms. We implemented a course of martial arts training, nutrition and life coaching that brought him to health and mental wellbeing. This was all great in itself, but I didn’t really understand the true nature what I was dealing with in Scott until several weeks later.

A few friends of the band were visiting and I had asked them all to keep a journal of their thoughts and experiences while at Wind and Rock. I told them I would read and review these journals so please write something every day as many times as desired. After about 3 or 4 days of them training Tai Chi and hitting bags, working out and seeking a presence of mind and intentionality of focus, I picked up some of the journals while everyone was asleep. One said “Hey babe, miss you guys, on my second cup of coffee,” etc. Another read “Yeah it’s going to be sunny today, hope it’s not too hot” and so forth. When I picked up Scott’s journal I was blown away. There was page after page of sketches, shadowing, lyrics, words and creativity like none I had seen before. All at once, like a shovel to the forehead, it dawned on me that the brilliance and creative genius of this band lives in Scott Weiland. This was the impetus for everyone spending so much time, money and effort on holding him together–because he was worth his weight in gold.

Parenthetically, during the making of “Inside Out” on Vh1, Alex and Alex from the network were smart enough to film the emotional anguish felt by the Velvet Revolver band members in their search for a lead man. They had recalled several awful auditions, during which Duff and Slash were both underwhelmed and frustrated. Then, when Scott came along they said “I don’t want to make the call unless this is the guy”. The “guy” in question was Scott Weiland and “the call” was to me. Vh1 came to my home at Wind and Rock and filmed us training and working out as part of their documentary of the band.

During his recovery, I realized Scott and I were very much alike. We are both creative, passionate and ambitious, and this felt synchronicity caused me to deeply consider things that Scott needed to do to achieve meaning and stability in his life. One of the most important things I invited him to do was plant a tree. Not just any tree, a sequoia redwood. Together we sought out and purchased  a 5 ft tree, and I had him do the requisite manual labor to plant it in the ground and then water it regularly.  I poignantly felt he needed  some permanence in his life and the tree could represent an anchoring and timelessness in his perspective. Whenever he was down or frustrated or anxious, he could know that somewhere there was a tree he planted, that would root and ground him, helping him to sense the something bigger that he is a part of.

Another time, I suggested that Scott shoot his cell phone with a shotgun as a representation of the cleaving off of unhealthy parts of himself. That phone held all the contact information for his drug dealers and shooting it was a demonstration of rejection toward that which drags him down. This act manifested the power and stability that is embodied by destroying that which tried to destroy him. So I took his cell phone out to the woodpile, placed it on a stump 10 steps away and there Scott symbolically killed his past so he could give birth to his future.

With all of his creativity and brilliance, Scott was difficult and often challenging to be around. I remember going out on my trail one day and Addy followed me. “Oh my God I have to get rid of him. I can’t stand him anymore, I’m overwhelmed” I cried. But despite this sentiment, I held on to my patience and vision of the bigger picture of creativity and genius that I saw in him. Reflecting back now, I see that deep inside, I wanted people to believe in me because I, too,  am difficult and mercurial at times which causes those around me to feel repelled. What I realize about myself, what I realize about Scott,  is that being unusual, contentious, explosive, moody and contrarian is part of the burden carried by creative and passionate people. Like Nietzsche says “The man who moves mountains also moves valleys.” I wanted to see in him what I wished others would see in me, and give him the patience and perspective that he deserved. It is still the one gift I most hope to receive from others.

Several years later, I regrouped with Scott and Stone Temple Pilots, having once again received the call from Dana Dufine. The endeavor this time was regarding the band’s North American tour.  Dana shared that STP was on tour and they had been doing quite well. Unfortunately, with 2 months booked and approximately 25 concerts to go, and they were thinking of shutting down the tour. Bear in mind, this was a massive tour involving several busses, a road crew–an overall huge expensive endeavor. Cancelling it would mean a tremendous loss for STP, dozens of people out of work and unseen costs to the band’s reputation and morale. What was even more vexing was the fact that this proposed cancellation was due to personal band dynamics, differences of opinion and so forth, likely incited by drug/alcohol use on Scott’s part. Dana said Scott had been asking for “Sifu”. Apparently he needed some mentorship, anchoring and guidance from someone he could trust to persevere with him through his darkest days. So within 24 hours I flew to LA to meet him and we did 25 more concerts all over the country. We were in LA, San Francisco, Phoenix–you name it, we went there. I lived on the bus with Scott, staying by his side to protect and fortify him as his friend and coach. Scott was able to make the needed adjustments to reconcile his differences with the band enough to work together. In the end, they finished the tour and grossed millions of dollars because of it.

I am an experiential learner by nature. Not all people are, but those who pay attention can mine value from the most intricate and brief encounters. My time with Scott helped me encounter what I value in myself, what I value in others, allowing me to see the extraordinary power that patience and support of brilliant people can yield. I am very proud and grateful for the work I did with Velvet Revolver. I am grateful for my friendship with Scott, Duff, Slash, Dave and Matt. This group produced two albums with several million copies sold, and I am fulfilled for having played a small part in their success. My involvement with Scott Weiland started in 2002 and continues to this day as he built a custom log house on the road I live on in Lake Chelan, WA. I hope the drive by my house reminds him that he deserves to be understood for his creativity much more than resented for his flaws.

For more on the Velvet Revolver/STP story, visit: